Many people may have been attracted to Christianity during the plagues in Rome because Christians took care of one another, and of their neighbors. Dionisus, an early Christian wrote, "Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ." In the Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark estimates that basic nursing care, feeding and hydration might have reduced the mortality rate from 30% in the general community to 10% among Christians. I was unable to find supporting references, but it makes sense. We know that good care increases the survival rate of corona virus patients even though we have no vaccine or cure. And providing medical care and founding hospitals is an ancient and persistent Christian practice.
So, it's a little odd to be told the best thing we can do now to keep people safe is to stay a safe distance from one another. But it's entirely consistent with loving our neighbor to make the effort and sacrifice necessary to protect everyone. That's what Christians do.
Of course, there is still much we can do. We are facing this challenge in a time when options for communication have multiplied. Imagine what it was like in 1918. So, we can stay in touch, provide emotional support, and pray together. We are social creatures, and just plain connecting is health enhancing. We can also still help one another in concrete ways, such as carefully doing some shopping for people who can't or don't dare go out.
Meanwhile, how do we keep our own spirits up and our anxiety down? There are many comforting passages in scripture we can turn to in times of trouble. This morning we read Psalm 23. Some others that are particularly comforting include Psalms 42, 46, 90, 121, 130, and 139. In Hebrew Scripture, Isaiah 40, 51, and 66, Jeremiah 31. In the New Testament, Matthew 6:25-34, John 14:10-11. If you have some extra time you might want to look some of those up.
God's other bible, nature, also has great potential to lift our spirits and support our health. Now that the ice is pretty much gone, getting out to walk, even when it's a bit chilly, is good for heart and soul. Especially if one walks with appreciation and gratitude for Creation.
This is an inconvenient and somewhat scary time. Let us find comfort and hope in our faith, enjoyment in the natural world, and satisfaction in supporting those whose lives are closely linked with ours.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Harries
Stark, Rodney. The rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1996. In "Cyprian's Plague and the Insanity of Christian Service." Crossroads Initiative blog, accessed 3/22/20.